Imagine the classic Noir ambiance: A regular guy, trapped in a morally ambiguous urban underworld, encounters a shady lady whose aura of desire and doom is completely irresistible. Though the less famous medium, Noir or Pulp Fiction is the forerunner of... [more]
Imagine the classic Noir ambiance: A regular guy, trapped in a morally ambiguous urban underworld, encounters a shady lady whose aura of desire and doom is completely irresistible. Though the less famous medium, Noir or Pulp Fiction is the forerunner of Film Noir. With its terse dialogue, vivid visual sense, and tightly wound plots, the genre was a natural for the movies. Hollywood moguls, desperate for story lines after World War II depleted their ranks, turned to magazine ("pulp") fiction and dime-store novels. The novels were cheap, wildly popular, and seemed to tap into an as-yet-unexploited cultural vein.
"Noir" means "black." And black subject matter was certainly new and exciting, a breath of fresh air after WWII's cheerful patriotism. Certainly the dark, moody tone (reflected in the deeply shadowed films) conjured a growing disillusionment rising out of America's solid middle class: the fear that things were beginning to fall apart, that even the most cherished traditions and institutions could not be trusted.
The classic Noir anti-hero is a "loner in a world he can't fix." In Noir, there is no way out of the darkness -- instead, there is merely acceptance and survival of the fittest. Noir fiction is the cynical side of the American dream: individuality and honor are still redemptive yet utterly useless.
Former Pinkerton agent Dashiell Hammett is credited with inventing the genre with his simple, blunt narratives. Novelists James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson perfected it, increasing its "serious" literary merits with heightened visual language and stream-of-consciousness leanings. Contemporary authors like James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard keep the tradition alive. [show less]